Reuters Social Media Editor Anthony De Rosa recently talked to TPM about Twitter, verifying digital information and unplugging on weekends.
Run me through your news consumption: What do you read? How do you come across your information?
The first thing I do in the morning is load up Live Wire, a section on Reuters’ Social Pulse page, where I’m basically doing a link-out to stories that I think will be interesting. I try to refresh it several times during the day, but in the morning it’s usually the first thing I do. And that also helps me get into the flow of what’s going on, because in order to fill that up I’m looking at what’s on Twitter, going through RSS, going through the wires, going out to all the usual suspects in terms of how I start to curate the news for the day. And then for the rest of the day is having this ADD about looking at different places all the time to try to monitor what’s going on. Sometimes you’ll have a sense of things you’ll be needing to keep an eye on because those are the events that have been going on the past couple days. I’ll have certain topics I’ll be keeping a close eye on, but then I’ll just be looking out for random stuff, and that could be in a number of different places.
I look at some of the major websites to see what the big stories they’re doing are. I go to the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and Al Jazeera, all the major ones. And then I’ll go out to the blogs as well, sometimes before the major sites. The Atlantic Wire, and Gawker, and stuff like that. And then the individual bloggers I know that are really good at curating from all those stories, so it’s really a mixture from a lot of different sources.
Do you read anything in print?
During the week I don’t. On the weekends, I almost shun digital, if I can. I’ll almost ritually read the Sunday Times, the print version.
How did you end up at Reuters?
I was really more of a development, software guy for a really long time, and always dipping my toes in the editorial side of things on a freelance basis. I wasn’t sure if I could pull off doing it full time, so I continued to do it on the side and see if it could lead anywhere. And it’s funny, because David Carr picked up something on Tumblr, wrote a story around what I was saying, and it got the attention of some folks in editorial. They started talking about maybe bringing me over to start working on some editorial stuff. That’s kind of how it happened. The fact that David picked it up was a turning point that allowed me to take it from a hobby to an actual career, almost about a year now that I’ve been working on this side.
What was David Carr’s story?
He was talking about, and it’s kind of ironic, how social platforms are making a business out of other people’s content. The thing I posted on Tumblr was called “Digital Feudalism,” how we’re all serfs for this feudal empire, that Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook are taking that content and making a business out of it, and David used my post as a central point of the argument that he was making.
What is your approach in using Twitter as a news platform at Reuters?
I try to get lot of journalists here to use it as monitoring tool. It’s great as a broadcasting tool to get people to see what you’re pointing to, but it’s even more valuable to monitor what’s going on in all sorts of places. I teach them to use Twitter lists to focus in on certain things — it really gets noisy if you’re just following your main feed. I’m following over 2,000 people, and that can get really tough to keep up with.
What makes a good Tweet?
If it’s got something that is going to give us the missing piece of a story. Like, if someone is suddenly able to tell us what’s hidden in Romney’s tax returns that they were able to dig up through an SEC filing. It’s really juicy bits of news, those are the really awesome tweets that’ll get shared over and over and over again. I follow a lot of comedians, people who are just really witty, and I think a lot of what I see on Twitter I follow because I think people have a funny sense of humor, a funny take on news. It’s not all just serious news all the time. I think it’s good to follow people who’ll keep you sane by throwing some levity into the whole thing.
How has your use of Twitter evolved, even in the time since you’ve worked on editorial?
I think I’ve become much more careful about which tweets I pick up. Based on source, based on trying to first look at who’s saying it and what they’re saying. Looking into what they’re saying, I can verify and feel comfortable putting my stamp on. I think the retweet doesn’t necessarily mean you’re fully endorsing what somebody says, but I still would like to limit what I retweet to things that I mostly feel comfortable sharing. I don’t know that everyone understands what a retweet is, that it’s not an endorsement
Any other lessons?
I’m realizing that you don’t want to spend too much time on Twitter, because it’s not the be-all, end-all. It’s great to pop in every once in a while, especially when there’s a story that’s really fast-moving. Twitter’s probably going to cover it faster than other media. But you have to go deeper. You have to go further than what you’re seeing there. It’s a beacon to lead you to more thoughtful, in-depth reporting than what Twitter’s alerting you to. I think some folks might wind up getting stuck in a rut where they’re just focusing on those short, surface-level bits of information, and may be missing the larger story if they spend too much time there.
Is there a risk that journalists are just talking to each other on Twitter and not reaching the readers we’re really trying to?
I think that’s very, very true. I think it can sort of be an echo chamber for just media people, not actually going out to a larger audience. It’s just another thing you have to keep in mind. As I said before, it’s probably more useful as a monitoring tool than as a broadcasting tool. So that’s where you should be going to read what media people are seeing. They’re the people who are super plugged in, the people who are going to alert you to what’s going on. But that’s just the beacon that should be the entry point, and then you should be going outside of that to broadcast it to a larger audience, which is probably going to be your website, that’s where the majority of your audience is, and that’s where you ultimately want to present what you’re trying to get across to them.
Why is it important to have staff dedicated to social media?
Because you can’t be everywhere. It’s a way for us to have insight or eyes and ears in parts of the world where we might not have someone immediately able to report from. So a lot of the people on social media can be the conduit to get information about what’s going on in certain places.
Is it important to have professionals who can make sure the information being gathered is credible?
Yes, to be able to verify it, to sift through all that information. It’s very much a researcher- investigator type of role. You have to be careful, you have to use your judgment to figure out what’s truth and what’s fiction from what you’re seeing.
What’s your process of verification?
There are all sorts of digital footprints that come across with this sort of information. You can look at who’s following them, who they’re following, how old the account is, look at the history of messages they’ve left over time. It’s almost like a forensic analysis you can do. I look at whatever information is around the account I’m looking at. And I also find Storyful really useful — they have people who can often find the actual person behind the account, and they can get you the phone numbers, email addresses, and over time they’ve actually built up a rolodex of sources who tend to use social media directly, and you can reach out to them and do a little bit further research on them.
Name three Twitter accounts that you can’t live without.
One of the guys who helped create @BreakingNews and wound up selling it to MSNBC several years ago is probably one of the best people, @mpoppel. He seems to always be right on top of things. I’d say my deputy, Matthew Keys, would be No. 2. And No. 3, I’d say Joe Weisenthal. He’s relentless. He seems to never leave Twitter, and gets news and information out there really quickly. If I had those three people, I think I’d probably be really well-informed.
What’s a Tweet you wish you didn’t send?
That’s easy — there was a time I picked up a tweet that an anchor in the UK sent that Piers Morgan had been suspended, and that’s one of the lessons I learned about doing a lot more verification before sending a tweet. I’d take that one back for sure.
Keys was on a sabbatical (he’s back now), and there was the incident in Colorado with the gas explosion that Reuters tweeted, then Keys personally, and then it was a breaking news update on Reuters.com. It turned out to be day-old news. Did that have anything to do with him taking a break? Any thoughts about his decision to step away from Twitter?
He just (felt) he wants to apply more of his focus on our corporate platforms. He’s still Tweeting on the @Reuters account, managing the Facebook and Tumblr that we have. I think he’s seeing what it’s like to put a lot more focus on some of those other platforms.
Was that an issue, those Tweets on the explosion?
No, no, that had nothing to do with his decision. This was purely something he decided to do, and I was completely fine about it.
How would journalism be different if Twitter didn’t exist?
Twitter has increased the speed of the news cycle. It seems like everyone is much more aware of what’s happening all the time. I think the news cycle would continue to be at a much slower pace, which could be a good thing because we’d spend a little more time thinking about the major topics of the day, rather than getting caught up in the minutiae. You take the good with the bad.
David Taintor is TPM’s News Editor. He contributes to TPM’s Livewire coverage, among other areas. David is from Chanhassen, Minnesota, where, yes, it gets very cold. Reach him at taintor [at] talkingpointsmemo.com